Three Keys to Your PMP® Exam Application Narratives

You have limited space to hit the highlights for your experience on the PMP® exam application. Remember these key things to maximize your chances of approval.
Jan 21 / John Connolly, MLIS, PMP
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When it's time to apply for the PMP® exam, you need to provide your relevant information on the application form: education, 35 hours of instruction, and project management experience. If you have a 4-year degree, you need to describe 36 months of project management experience, and without the degree you have to demonstrate 60 months of experience. Your experience has to have come within the last eight years to qualify.

Every project you enter will require some vital information: project name, your title when managing it, team size, budget size, and beginning and ending dates. You will then add a narrative of about 500 words to describe each project. There are some important keys to crafting a good project narrative. Remember these as you prepare to apply.

It Must Be a Project

Remember, your projects must meet the PMI definition of a project. It must be a temporary endeavor that produces a unique product, service, or result. While this definition is broad, it still requires applicants to demonstrate that the experience entered was a project and not operations. Operations are repeated indefinitely or do not produce unique value.

A good way to express the nature of the project as a narrative is to highlight the project's beginning, middle, and end arc, and to describe its unique value realized through its deliverables. It may help to express any quantitative value of the project, too. Remember to avoid using jargon or acronyms related to your specific line of work, as the reviewer may not know specific terms you are using.

Remember that regardless of what your organization calls projects, your application needs to reflect true project experience. Calling a project a "program" may lead to confusion, as program management is a separate discipline than project management and PMI has a separate certification for program managers.

You Must Have Managed It

A second key in your application experience is to demonstrate that you were the project manager. This is crucial. To be clear, you do not need to have held the formal title "Project Manager" in your role when you were managing the project. However, you must show that you were accountable for the project and that you exercised the duties of a project manager.

You may wish to avoid describing your experience as "coordination," as you want to demonstrate your accountability beyond simply coordinating or scheduling tasks. Ask yourself some key questions about what you did in the role. Did you manage budgets and schedules? Did you lead a team? Did you engage with stakeholders? Did you manage risk or quality of deliverables? Did you assure compliance with organizational or regulatory requirements?

This is a good opportunity to outline the nature of your role. You don't have to have done it all, but what you need to show that what you did do was project management.

Use Project Management Vocabulary

Remember, the application reviewer will likely be unfamiliar with any vocabulary specific to your industry. Use the terms you need to get the point across clearly, but wherever you can, express your narrative using project management terms. Know the difference between quality and grade, what hybrid projects mean, and outline your authority in your organization's enterprise environmental factors.

Some key terms to consider when describing your experience:

  • Budget/cost planning
  • Scheduling
  • Risk assessment
  • Quality control and assurance
  • Stakeholder identification
  • Stakeholder engagement
  • Change requests

There are many more. Reviewing PMI standards and practice guides (especially check the indexes at the back of them) will give you more ideas for description of your experience in terms a reviewer will recognize and understand.

Remember that you're translating your experience. Don't get bogged down in too many details, you have limited space and a lot to cover. Keep your focus on the three goals: nature of the project, management duties, and project management vocabulary. If these inform your narratives, you will craft clear, concise wording that will help you navigate your application successfully.
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